surgery, transgender

GRS – 3 Surgeries and One Beautiful Nightmare (Part 3/3)

[Content warnings for graphic depictions/images of bodily functions, surgery, suicide, mental illness, swearing]

This is Part III of my little tale about having serious difficulties + complications with lower surgery, and coming back from the brink to make a better life.  You can find Part I here, and Part II here.

This isn’t an in-depth look into GRS, just a story of recovery, if you’d like me to discuss any part more thoroughly please leave a comment here or send a direct message on Twitter @unexpectedamy.


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Glazed out, holding it together.

I woke to much more pain than the first time, the morphine didn’t work quite so well, and something really didn’t feel right.  I suffered again through the consommé and the catheters, getting on with my research so much as I could, feeling incredibly humble and ashamed as people came to visit me from all over. I was in hospital 4 days this time, let out early as apparently everything went swimmingly since this was just a ‘revision,’ so I got in my wheelchair, and took the flight home.  On the plane I felt a pop – I don’t know what it was but I knew it wasn’t good.  As soon as I got home I checked my vagina in the mirror and there it was, another prolapse.

I’m crying to myself now as I did then because how does one react to that initially? I was devastated. So much as I was buoyed by my recent efforts I wasn’t going to deny that this could be a quick end to the hopes that plagued my mind from my earliest memories.  I was advised to dilate through the pain and the growing bulge, also to have a tampon inserted at all times except when I was sleeping or dilating.  This had never happened twice with one patient for Mr. Thomas before so it was new territory for his team.  I was told after a few weeks that I would have to wait 3 months for my body to heal enough to have another surgery.  Altogether this was going to cumulate with me lying in bed for upwards of 6 months; I was doing some really good work but this seemed excessive.

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The view from my room.

At least things couldn’t really get any worse right?  Well, of course they could, and they did.  About a week after getting home from this second surgery I found out what the bad energy was and went through something emotionally traumatic with the one person who had been at my side through all this.  This person was seemingly my best-friend, as far as I was aware we had a wonderful, equal, loving relationship, but when news of this second prolapse came, it’s as if they turned into a different person overnight, becoming cold, invalidating, and non-communicative before ultimately discarding me like I meant nothing without a single attempt at resolution.  My body was so weak, I couldn’t move, I felt utterly helpless, these sudden acts of cruel indifference flipped my world on its axis, the next 9 or so months dominated by heartbreak and confusion.  I started working even harder, researching, bingeing lectures + webinars, utterly determined to see this through and build a new life because I had no choice.

I have dealt with suicidal idealisation since I was 10 years old, but I had come too far to give up at this point.  I had screwed up my life in pretty much every way possible, I was NOT going to stop now, in fact I wanted MORE!  I allowed myself to fall into the pits of despair, suffering, sorrow, my worst fears about this time in my life had come true, both in losing pretty much everyone I love, and surgery seemingly like an utter failure to the point there may be no other option than to close up my vagina.  It was there, utterly consumed by this fear that I realised I was still standing (figuratively) – I was losing but I wasn’t defeated, I could tolerate the suffering reasonably.  I was laying in that bed watching winter and now spring pass by out the window, suffering awfully, still hating myself often enough, yet I didn’t feel weak, I felt stronger than I maybe ever have, and have only grown stronger since.  I was learning to tolerate my own company, to rely only on myself for my emotional stability, to reach in rather than reach out.

Also there was dilating, lots of dilating, 3 times a day, 2 hours apiece, constant agony, constant reminders of how messed up my bits were as I pushed through the new growing bulge even after it too completely fell out, along with a horrifying web of stitches all pulling in the wrong directions.  Graciously, new friends and acquaintances kept me company at times, although there was lots of guilt since I could no longer be the friend I wanted to be, trying to find a new way without the destructive co-dependent tendencies.  I must mention my mother and step-father who kept me alive through all of this, I would have been completely doomed without their help for transport, nutrition, hygiene, and providing as comfortable a quality of life as I could hope for.  I am very thankful for that privilege.

After the first month I got a reprieve, Mr. Thomas was willing to bring the wait down by a month, so the third surgery would be May 5th, maybe I could still catch the end of summer!  I didn’t spend ALL my time in bed, I couldn’t sit on a sofa but I could manage an awkward position for a while, I could go out for short walks on occasion, a new friend took me on a few short trips in her car, so it wasn’t that bad really.

My hormones levels were in a state of flux since I had to stop 6 weeks before the first surgery, start again 3 weeks after, then stopping again a few weeks before the second surgery, now getting ready to stop again for the third.  I reached an agreement with the hospital that I could still take some estrogen from now on because it was extra exhausting to have this added layer of mental and physical backflipping I couldn’t control on top of everything else.  As I predicted, coming off testosterone blockers felt fantastic, I feel I owe a fair bit to stopping in dispersing some of my brain fog.

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Lying down all day makes you sleepy..

May was coming but I was not.  Through all this, sex was of course an afterthought but after several months inevitable needs brought new painful sensations to my body, it didn’t seem like there was much I could do about it, I figured some people might pay well for this level of chastity so why not.  I have plenty of issues around sexuality that I knew GRS wouldn’t change, but it was actually becoming a bit risky to my prolapse from all the wriggling around and trying not to squeeze my legs together, it was a lot of pain.  In the end I had no choice but to carefully use a vibrator over a few layers and get this business taken care of.  Sexy.  Trying to reach sexual release with teeth gritted in agony is certainly an experience, although this wasn’t kinky, it felt like the tiniest snippet of the screamiest moments in childbirth.  It took many weeks and a lot of failed attempts, but being able to have an orgasm nourished me with fortuitous hope, there’s women who struggle to come years after surgery, so I felt duly grateful.

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Kinda used to it at this point..

When May did arrive, the roundtrip to Brighton and back held few surprises, again there was no choice but to just let it happen, I wasn’t confident.  Everything seemed to go well enough thankfully, I got sent home after another 5 days, no pops on the plane, another couple of months in bed.  After a few weeks I saw a lump again near the entrance of my vagina but it looked different, Mr. Thomas reviewed my photos and said it was likely an oedema rather than a prolapse.  So far as I’m aware an oedema is just a weak part of tissue that engorges with blood.  I was told to wait and see, it grew little by little, very slowly, but then it stopped, neither covering the entire vaginal entrance nor protruding.  Dilation hurt more than ever, for less than 3 inches of depth now since the area had been cut up and stitched so many times.

I watched out the window as summer began to pass, wondering if there was anything I could do, thinking of how I could save up the money to see a surgeon with a fresh approach, hoping that this could be it for now. In Mid-June, after six and a half months in bed I started trying to build my strength back up, walking most days, appreciating the sun and the fresh air, but only for a little while before having to dilate some more, eventually getting it down to about 90 minutes.  I got to sit down for the first time basically all year, which in time meant I could drive, so I came back to my own flat in the city.

The next couple of months were about trying to build momentum physically, getting my hormone levels back on track, feeding myself and moving around, although still not cleared for exercise.  I had developed insomnia from the anti-depressants I was on which became more pronounced when the exhaustion of recovery finally abated, adding a new challenge.  On top of this I hadn’t been prepared to go over 6 months without seeing my counsellor, so I got myself a new therapist to take my mental health recovery to the next level.  With her help I started recording daily activities on a calendar app to remind me of my progress, pushing myself somehow to the goal of dedicating 30+ hours a week solely to self-improvement.  Before surgery, I didn’t move or get out much anyway, my mental health was admittedly toxic, I barely ate, I mostly slept, I was dead inside, so even though many folk many take a simple routine for granted, this was a huge moment for me.  I had something to focus on so I could do enough in the second half of the year to make up for missing out on the first.

In October I finally saw Mr. Thomas one last time for a check up.  What happened was quick, but very uncomfortable.  His nurse got me on the bed, naked from the waist down, as had been the style the past couple of years, I assumed the position so he could first jam one of his big fingers up me, then attack my vagina with a speculum.  It hurt in a real dull yet agonising way but at least it was quick.  He confirmed it wasn’t a prolapse, but also said there wasn’t anything he could do about it since there is so much scarring.  The hope is that in time it will fade or just become a non-issue, and if I somehow come to sexual intercourse, well…it’s just going to take patience.  There’s no hanging balls of flesh in my pants, and I can have clitoral orgasms easily enough, I have a vulva and a vagina, that’s a lot to be grateful for.  Even if the first operation were a success, a rule of thumb is to give 2 years for full healing, so even now I’m still almost a year and a half from having the ultimate result.  Regardless, he gave me the all clear, any problems I have now I take to a gynaecologist.

In the last few months of the year I’ve only had to dilate once a day, optimising the time

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How to Dial-8

down to about 70 minutes on a good day, as of posting this one year later I’ll only have to dilate every couple of days, freeing up so much room to make the most of my days.  I calculated that in the first year I dilated about 600 times, but from now it will take around 16 years to ever dilate that many times again, the first year is not that much better for anyone else who gets this surgery in terms of time spent dilating, it’s not really something I could have prepared for, and I wasn’t going to let myself close up after all I’ve put into making this happen.  Now dilation isn’t really painful, I’ve got my depth up to 4 inches, and the oedema isn’t so much of a concern.


This isn’t a horror story about surgeries gone wrong, this is a story about being tempered through adversity, that regardless of how much we may doubt ourselves, when it comes to surviving and overcoming we somehow find a way to come out shining after bathing in the dark of our deepest fears.  I have learned how capable I am, I’m learning to rely on myself, to take 100% responsibility for my own happiness, to work deeper and harder towards actualising an authentic, realised self rather that becoming just trying to become mentally healthy enough to insert myself into any job I can find.

I stepped into my worst fears, I languished in the enveloping dark flames and noticed I was ok.

If I hadn’t have lost so many loved ones I wouldn’t have dealt with my co-dependency and people-pleasing issues.

If I hadn’t have been bed-ridden for so long I wouldn’t have been able to do the hard work and learn how to be alone with myself.

If it wasn’t for my life falling apart I wouldn’t be here now passionately working towards my life purpose, I’d still be stuck trying to be just enough by someone else’s standards.

I’ve had to face myself this past year, I still have many more years of healing and a lot of life to build before I can truly create something sustainable, but I’m more confident and assured than I have ever been. Wherein 2017 I was having major suicidal breakdowns sometimes on a weekly basis, in 2018 I only had a few, and no suicidal feeling at all, in fact, I am falling in love with life.  I have weaned myself off anti-depressants after a year of much needed chemical help, relieving my insomnia.  I’m building my own little life for myself and in general I’m more excited about it every week!

I want to thank everyone who freely offered their kindness, time, energy, words of support throughout all this, I don’t have the words to show my appreciation and surprise for these gifts, I carry them in my heart.  Thank you to those who taught me harsh life lessons, I’m growing from them in ways I didn’t expect I could.

Mr. Thomas performs countless successful GRS operations every year, his surgeries have enhanced the lives of many trans women with no issues whatsoever, but there are always risks and inevitable complications for an unfortunate few, that’s for the patient to accept and place signed in writing.  My life has doubtlessly been improved by this surgery, I no longer have to think about it because it’s done, that vacuum in my consciousness filled with new problems and possibilities.

It is just over one year from the anniversary of my first surgery, now the phantom of a life left behind.  Medically my transition is complete aside maintaining hormones levels.  Socially I don’t get out much but I pass 99% of the time without really having to change that much about myself, another privilege I’m well aware of.  After nearly 4 and a half years of transition and endless appointments it’s all done, it takes a while to get used to not being pulled in every direction, this is the goal I imagine for the majority of trans people, to just be able to live life in peace just as regularly as anyone else.  Fear may have won the majority of my transition battles, but it lost the war, here I stand victorious.

For those of you on a similar path – If a loser like me can go through all this, still have complications, and come out stronger, you are going to do just fine!

If anything, thanks to all that has happened, my life is more authentic than ever, I have a stronger foundation than ever, I’m more hopeful than ever, I’m more productive than ever, and I’m happier than I have ever been.

Thank you for reading my story.

Lots of Love,

Amy Xx

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transgender

GRS – 3 Surgeries and One Beautiful Nightmare (Part 2/3)

[Content warnings for graphic depictions/images of bodily functions, surgery, suicide, mental illness, swearing]

This is Part II of my little tale about having serious difficulties + complications with lower surgery, and coming back from the brink to make a better life.  You can find Part I here.

This isn’t an in-depth look into GRS, just a story of recovery, if you’d like me to discuss any part more thoroughly please leave a comment here or send a direct message on Twitter @unexpectedamy.


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Morphine is weird.

I woke up groggy as all heck, keeping my eyes closed for a moment until I felt an intense pain and an awareness of beeping.  As soon as I opened my eyes, a kind consult came to me, explaining softly where I was, that everything had gone ok, and asked what my pain levels were.  I imagine I was slipping in and out of consciousness, perturbed only by the pain, moaning about how much it hurt and that the painkillers hadn’t taken effect yet.  On the other side of the curtain I heard another patient also weakly moaning, after a bit of time the morphine kicked in so although I was in pain I was too wasted to notice it.  Apparently I spent a lot of time asking if things had gone ok and flirting the nice man who was there for me as I woke, trying to distract me with questions about life and music.

When I had regained some of my sense I got wheeled back to my room, high and exhausted.  I spent the rest of the day talking garbage in my inebriated state, sleeping, getting used to all the strange sensations of my body.  The Flowtron boots loudly massaged my legs, the heart monitor beeped, the world outside my room went on as my head spun and I just rolled with it because it wasn’t anywhere near as horrifying as I had feared.  At the surgery site was a big bundle of near bloodless bandages with a catheter leading to a bag beside my bed which began to fill as I was allowed some water.  I didn’t really have the energy to care or think “Oh wow, I have a vagina,” in fact once I calmed down I was more interested in continuing my research.  I wanted to stick to my regular schedule so much as possible to take some of the pressure off all the other changes happening, so I mostly just lay with my eyes closed listening to lectures and seminars.

The next few days were to do as little as possible, I was still exhausted, obviously couldn’t move, was being fed consommé as a substitute for food, and was pumped full of happy drugs, so my energy levels were low but my spirits were high.  I was incredibly fortunate to have a few visitors over the next few days, including people I had only spoken to previously online, met through this blog and Twitter.  With their support and the wonderful words of Twitter followers I was able to pass the days without too much concern.  The staff were mostly very nice and helpful, even Mr. Thomas seemed more personable when he came to visit.  The first few nights I sweat a lot, needing my clothes and sheets changed fairly often –  I do have to commend the patience of the staff for helping me so much whilst I was infirm.

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The sexy combo of mesh underpants and compression stockings.

The back pain and trapped wind is the worst – for as much as the surgical site hurt it was nowhere near as bad as I had anticipated, about 7 at worst, I’ve had worse haemorrhoids if I’m honest.  I’m not used to sleeping on my back so from the second night I was able to lie on my side with the aid of a mountain of pillows, which was no easy feat, eventually letting out the most classically elegant farts I’ve ever heard. On Day 3 I was able to eat a little – toast, tea, and rice crispies – after nearly a week of tasteless food and fast I’m not sure I’ve ever been so enamoured by sustenance.  Things were going pretty well leading up to getting my bandages off and learning to dilate for the first time.  After a few days I was encouraged to get up a couple of times a day just to stand and sit in a chair, which is very difficult with a bunch of bandages containing a raw new vagina.

Unfortunately there was a medical error, I relied on the staff to provide my medications but for 2 days they forgot to give me my anti-depressant and my mood plummeted. I didn’t know why at the time, but when it came to taking off the bandages I was a total mess. A specialist came in with a nurse and they removed the dressings, one of the most painful parts of the experiences as they had been set on my pubes for a few days. After that they pulled the bandages out of my vagina like a clown pulls handkerchiefs from a sleeve, the feeling new, numb yet sensate, indescribable, unpleasant. I had been informed that my vagina was quite tight and difficult to work with because of a strong pelvic floor muscle, but it looked pretty good comparatively.

I was in no state to go ahead with dilation, crying my eyeballs out completely incensed in fear.  I did all I could but was so tense at the idea of having things jammed into unhealed flesh I completely dissociated and missed a lot of what happened.  I was miserable at my results, 3.5 inches of depth and too tight for the larger of the two dilators.  The next day I finally realised I hadn’t been given my meds which became a point of contention with the staff who didn’t believe I was as upset as I was.  Even after taking my antidepressants again for a couple of days I felt gaslit and now unsafe with the staff.

With everything going on I didn’t make energy to connect with my vagina, I looked at it and saw just bruises and blood clots, it felt good to not have a penis, but the pendulum didn’t fully swing.  The day before we asked to leave the hospital I had a discussion with staff and got the opportunity to dilate again, only after Mr. Thomas intervened as the staff were preparing to throw me out because I was upset at being minimized and told I wasn’t in pain.  For a couple of hours I lay with one of his consults crying my way through dilation again but this time learning what I needed to.

At some point I got the catheter out, a couple of seconds of absolute agony, and was allowed to pee. Of course it was different to any other pee I’ve ever had, the urine has a shorter route and it took a while to map that in my brain before pissing all over my wounds.  Next was taking a poo, it took a couple of days of smaller enemas and suppositories before I was able to go, but the process took hours and a lot of sweat since I couldn’t really push without risking bursting my stitches.  I was so relieved when it finally happened but I was not looking forward to going through this process again on a full food diet.

Before I knew it I was on my way home, doing all I could to tolerate sitting in cars, planes, and wheelchairs.  I finally got back to my family home and set up in the bed there.  The next 6 weeks were to be for rest, recovery and thrice daily dilation, there’s no time for anything else.  A typical day would be: wake up, get breakfast, dilate, wash, sleep, eat lunch, dilate, sleep, eat dinner, dilate, sleep; that’s it.  It takes a while to set-up everything needed to dilate in the start as it’s all so new and requires massive amounts of mental fortitude to keep up progress, I had come this far so if I wanted to keep my vagina I would do the work, even though I was dilating altogether 6 hours a day.

The biggest physical challenge I had for the first few weeks (aside dilation) was using the toilet.  As pressure from constipation built I eventually had to give myself enemas and suppositories, trying not to sit on the toilet too long, in my exhaustion not being able to concentrate on anything, it was horrible but when it was finally over I felt like how Rocky did running up those Philadelphia steps:

So, that’s my story, 6 weeks of mostly bed rest then slowly reintegrating myself back into life!  Only, this is where the real struggle began.  While the majority of folks are able to cut along this path, a few weeks in I noticed a complication, a small protrusion was forming where one of my stitches had melted away quite early.  I kept dilating, assuming this was just the bottom of my vagina healing, but each day the lump got bigger.  I stayed in contact with Nuffield who recommended watchful waiting, but within the first month the bulge had covered my vaginal entrance making it impossible to dilate, and then began pushing outwards – I had prolapsed, an unfortunate added risk for those who had been circumcised.  With that prolapse I would need another surgery, so I was stuck in bed, unable to stand or even sit most of the time, almost completely isolated from the world.

In this time, the few people who were actively involved in helping support me were people I barely knew, who humbled me with their presence and helped build a sense of hope.  Something I’d read and prepared for was the sad knowledge that one of the more difficult aspects of going through a long term medical condition is that those closest to you may bow out at a certain stage.  There were folks I’d known and chased for 10 years who wouldn’t make a 10 minute journey to visit me while folks I barely knew bent over backwards for me, it was a strange time, I reminded myself to try to stay thankful for what I did have rather than what I did not.  It seemed like a good time to scorch the Earth of my old life and take responsibility for myself; I had changed and needed to focus on my recovery rather than chasing an old fantasy.

This drastic measure cleared away a life no longer relevant to me, newly fertile ground ready to sprout the strong new seeds of a better life.  I may have been down, but I was working constantly on my mental health, creating a foundation for the future regardless of how these complications turned out, I don’t know how I did it, but lying in that bed, alone, I grew stronger in myself, and I refused to give up.  For years I was so lost and insecure that I just tried too hard, and relied on others too much, I was co-dependent, I couldn’t stand being by myself.  Having my world fall apart has so far been one of the best things to happen to me, I’m more authentic than ever, I’m closer than ever to what I want from life rather than what I feel I’m supposed to be.

20180129_152424Anyway, each day the lump grew bigger and bigger until a large egg sized piece of flesh was hanging outside my body with all its various stitches and healing skin.  As much as this was an unfortunate situation I figured to myself ‘at least it’s not a penis.’  I’d gotten used to something dangling between my legs for over 30 years so I could really tolerate this 6 weeks of waiting better than the 6 weeks of waiting for the initial surgery, even though I was losing hope for my poor busted genitals.  It was still difficult, but something had changed inside me.  Suddenly I was having dreams of rooms being cleared in my mind, great dusty boxes disappearing, leaving me clear spaces to build anew.  I no longer had to think about having surgery, I no longer had to think about the next thing I had to do for transition, most of the reinforced neural pathways of dysphoria no longer served a purpose, I was filling with new potential.  I wasn’t going to lose this opportunity just because I was stuck in bed, ironic since mental illness had me in bed quite a lot of the time before surgery.  I did have a few opportunities to get outside, the fresh air and sunlight have rarely meant so much to me, I was no longer taking for granted the simplest little pleasures in life, leaning into the changes to my physical capabilities.

The date for my second surgery was February 28th, my birthday.  The first thing that hit me at the hospital was the smell, being there wasn’t so bad but I’d really rather not, at least I had a lovely view of the snowy Downs.  The energy was a bit strange this time, it didn’t feel right, I wasn’t nervous, just aware of it.  Everything was much the same as the first surgery, the idea of having surgery at all was a lifelong fear of mine up until a few months ago, but for this second surgery in two months I just let go..

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Ready to go again..!

Part III coming soon!

Thanks for reading,

Amy Xx

 

 

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